Yes, we are totes crushing on Elita Kalma (pictured below), who runs the Blacktating blog and who you can also catch holding forth on race, breastfeeding, and mothering on Twitter. Kalma hold forth on the images of Black breasts feeding white babies and Beyonce on the R’s main blog; here, we finish the interview with her views on NYC Mayor Bloomberg restricting formula to encourage breastfeeding, happy breastfeeding stories, and how we can support lactivists of color.
Do you think the images (or lack thereof) of Black women and breastfeeding in pop culture further feeds into the media-driven “Mommy Wars?” Why or why not?
I think that, like with other aspects of mothering, black women have been saying for a long time, “Hey, why aren’t we being included in this conversation?” I think that’s a separate issue from the so-called “Mommy Wars” though.
Just caught your Twitterfeed about wanting to hear happy breastfeeding stories. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but wonder if these negative stories about breastfeeding are a pushback to women essentially making a protesting stand on using their breasts for feeding when this society shows again (and again and again!) that breasts are there just to attract sexual/romantic attention?
I really think the pushback is that many women believe breastfeeding is going to be easy because it’s a natural process and then when they face challenges they say, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I think a lot of women have the expectation that breastfeeding will be amazing and transformative, and it is for so many. But when they don’t get that experience they feel angry, and in some cases guilty, especially if they weren’t able to do it for very long. And I think in general there is the feeling that if you had a great breastfeeding experience or a great birth that you can’t talk about it because people will think you’re being a “sanctimommy.” It’s become perfectly acceptable to bash breastfeeding, but if you sing its praises you’re automatically a breastfeeding bully. The reality is that it will be difficult for some and easy for others, and both of those experiences are valid. Particularly in a culture that doesn’t support breastfeeding in general, I think moms who make it work deserve all the kudos.
Gotta ask: your thoughts about NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg restricting hospital baby formulas to encourage breastfeeding and how that may play out along racial lines?
Well, first, I think there was a lot of drama surrounding that initiative that was really silly. I wonder how many people who had something to say about it actually read what the Latch On NYC campaign was all about. All of the evidence we have shows that when breastfeeding is supported in the hospital and formula freebies aren’t handed out, the breastfeeding rates go up. Harlem Hospital was the first hospital in New York City to be certified as Baby Friendly by UNICEF in 2008. The overall breastfeeding initiation rate for black women is about 54%, but 81% of women are breastfeeding when they leave Harlem Hospital. In California, the difference in breastfeeding rates for black women at regular hospitals versus Baby Friendly was 40% versus 60%. We know that training nurses to not reach for formula first and not allowing the formula companies carte blanche to market to new moms increases breastfeeding rates. This, in my opinion, is a good thing and a step forward and will only benefit black moms and babies.
How do you need from those of us who don’t breastfeed to support you and other lactivists of color?
The best thing you can do is support nursing moms, because unless there are some major societal changes, we aren’t going to see the breastfeeding rates in our community that we need for optimal health. Support the moms in your circle. If your friend is having a baby and tells you she wants to breastfeed, don’t make her feel strange for nursing in front of you or breastfeeding in public. If you co-worker has a baby and is pumping at work, don’t complain about her taking breaks or storing her milk in the break-room fridge. The best thing to do is realize that breastfeeding is, and should be, a part of all of our lives. Moms need to work and be social and leave the house with their kids. If they don’t feel like they can do that then they won’t breastfeed for very long. The best way to support the cause is to support the nursing moms in your life and in your community.